There seems to be snow almost everywhere in the Alps now (a mixed blessing for those who struggled through motorway snowdrifts and gridlocked traffic getting to and from various Alpine resorts) but in mid-December when there was still anxiety over “will there be snow when/where I go” I’d been leading a charmed life on skis. My first foray was to Ischgl at the end of November for James Blunt’s concert to open the resort for the winter. More than enough snow there, even though there wasn’t much in the way of glad tidings elsewhere in the Alps. Now I’m just back from Norway – skiing in Hemsedal and Geilo. And guess what? Snow aplenty to greet the first planeload of British skiers at Fagernes, the airport which serves Geilo. Conditions on both sides of the Geilo valley were in excellent shape and we started and ended our day in the kind of blizzards they’d have been grateful for in some Alpine resorts!
The snow was excellent too in Hemsedal. Just ask the British army’s Royal Logistics corps who we encountered there in training. Here’s what they say about the resort: “Hemsedal is one of Europe’s premier training centres for race teams looking for consistent high quality training conditions throughout the months of November and December. With extensive artificial snow and floodlights, training is guaranteed from mid-November onwards.” Although they were making snow in mid-December, we scarcely needed it at all.
Both Norwegian resorts seem to have grown substantially since my last visit (only a handful of years ago). One huge improvement at Hemsedal is the creation (at last!) of a very long run from top (Totten 1497m) to bottom (the town centre at 625m). Until this winter it’s never been possible to ski from the resort slopes all the way back to town. That’s never been a huge problem because most of the accommodation was – and remains – on-mountain. But now the new run will signal the expansion of accommodation in town as well, although skiers and boarders staying in town will still need the ski bus to get to the resort base area.
The 4km blue run – Sentrumsloypa – is not just a useful link but a truly exhilarating descent in its own right, and you don’t need to go all the way up to Totten to catch it – you can find it at mid-mountain too. Another new experience at Hemsedal (for me at least) was night dog sledding. Twenty two Alaskan Huskies – who will be starring later in 2015 in the movie Nobody Wants the Night, filmed near Hemsedal last May – can make quite a din in the moonlight. But amazingly, once they’ve completed the circuit, they seem happy to bed down in their mobile crates and head for home without even a whimper. Just like our group, really.